Last week, the state of New Jersey and plaintiffs in an unusual class-action lawsuit announced a preliminary settlement that will overhaul the existing special-education system in the state’s prisons.
The case before U.S. District Court was first brought four years ago by three inmates in the state’s adult jails who said their civil right to an education and all its accommodations for those with disabilities were infringed upon, some maintaining they were receiving no educational services at all.
The settlement — which could encompass hundreds of inmates and former inmates — seeks to provide comparable programs inside prison as are available in public schools, as required by the landmark federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The state’s departments of corrections and education would agree to establish and enforce protocols for identifying students and their needs, to provide the instruction, counseling and other services required and to continue, if needed, to provide services beyond the students’ time in state custody.
After years of negotiations, the settlement includes more than a dozen provisions that would otherwise be standard practice outside of prison, including certified teachers in classrooms and programs for those with limited English skills. And it includes a specific prohibition against the use of worksheets as the primary means of instruction.
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